With less than a minute of regular time remaining inside the bleakly empty Jeju World Cup Stadium, Jiangsu Suning seemed to have collected a credible point against an enterprising and dangerous Jeju United FC side. However, following a probing Zhou Yun free kick from deep, the ball fell to Ramires whose low drive found the net aided by a cruel deflection.
AFC Champions League Group H
Jeju United FC
Jiangsu Suning 1
The Brazilian scored at the same end as the rain-soaked travelling support and the sense that Choi Yong-soo’s side had stolen a slightly undeserved win certainly showed in the exuberance of the celebrations shared by the fans and players.
Throughout the game, Jiangsu had fewer chances and less control than a Jeju side that Choi warned during the buildup was “more advanced” in terms of training. No one dressed Jiangsu’s lighter 2017 shade of blue, however, was complaining when the referee finally brought a seemingly eternal six minutes of injury time to a close.
Although only the side’s first game in this year’s AFC, Jiangsu has historically struggled away from home in continental football and the win should boost the confidence of a team that played a patchy and often indecisive match. The result puts Jiangsu top of Group H level with Gamba Osaka who beat Adelaide United 3-0.
One blemish to an otherwise pleasing evening for the Nanjing-based club is the potential injury to Alex Teixeira. The player was removed at half-time with Choi citing a muscular problem in his post-match debriefing. Certainly, the former Shakhtar player’s replacement, 24-year-old Tao Yuan, represented a severe step down in the threat department and was unable to combine with the industrious, yet frustrated, Roger Martinez in any meaningful way.
Jeju, enjoying their second appearance in the competition, will certainly reflect on a handful of chances that might have swayed the match in their favor, with the woodwork twice playing a notable role.
The first real opportunity of note came in the 38th minute when Lee Chang-mi’s smart glancing header off defender Park Jin-po’s cross struck the bottom of the post.
As the game opened up in the second half, though a combination of ambition and tiring early season legs, Marcelo, Jeju’s Brazilian Mohican wonder, broke onto goal and flashed a rasping shot onto the underside of the crossbar from 15 yards out. In both instances, Jiangsu’s goalkeeper Zhang Sipeng, starting in place of 2016 regular Gu Chao, was utterly helpless.
In fact, the last 10 minutes of play was one of the few spells in the game in which Choi’s side truly exerted their influence. Going forwards, the coordination along the backline will need to improve with Ji Xiang and Yang Xiaotian, Jiangsu’s wingbacks, often leaving too much space for their Korean opponents to attack.
Speaking after the game, Choi recognized his side’s shortcomings but took a pragmatic approach to his first AFC fixture in charge of Jiangsu.
“As we expected before the game, our opponents had prepared well for the match and they showed their quality. However, in football sometimes the result matters more than the process. Today my team showed strong fighting spirit and I’m satisfied with that, I just hope we can have better and better results.”
Jiangsu now makes the journey to face Guangzhou Evergrande in Southwest China’s Chongqing, as the city once again hosts the CFA Super Cup on Feb 25.
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